Bikurim at one: A progress report from JNF UK’s school of rock

Earlier this week we spoke with Jonathan Dekel-Chen, co-founder of the JNF UK supported Bikurim Music School. Bikurim, a residential village for performing arts students, opened its doors earlier this year. The School’s opening was delayed by the disruption caused by Operation Protective Edge.

Jonathan spoke about Bikurim’s successful first year, and about Bikurim’s exciting plans for a new visual arts faculty.

JNF UK: Hi Jonathan. What has happened since you were last in touch with JNF UK?

JDC: “We are now nearing the end of our first year of studies. By any measurements, the results have been extremely satisfying for all involved. Our first group of students came to us from diverse backgrounds; children of kibbutzim and moshavim in the Negev, development towns and disadvantaged communities, as well as a small contingent from the Tel Aviv area. They are from observant and secular homes, with four growing up in families of recent olim from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
“Approximately half of our students have already been awarded prestigious prizes in Israel for their artistic excellence, with three chosen for an exclusive summer workshop of music recording in London. These types of recognition are almost always reserved for older students or those who have had years of private training by prominent instructors in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Most indications are that our educational programme is closing the opportunity gap for our students more quickly than we originally envisioned.”

JNF UK: Have any details of the project changed since you were last in touch?

JDC: “All of our 20 students have made extraordinary progress in their musical training, thanks to the cutting-edge educational programme that the Village created and instituted. As the situation currently stands, we are confident that our vision can be realised: the delivery of world-class professional artistic training to gifted young Israelis from undeserved communities who otherwise would never have this kind of opportunity to reach their potential. Moreover, residential life in the Village has generated a unique, creative synergy among these young people from diverse communities who otherwise would never engage with one another.”

JNF UK: Have you held any events? Will you be holding any events soon?

JDC: “As part of its professional training programme and our publicity efforts, the Village organised and has participated in many events both on the premises of the Village and in various venues in the region. These included our opening performance in December attended by several hundred people and a year-end performance in a few days time where a similar audience is expected. Various ensembles of our students and young staff have performed in public venues in the region, approximately a dozen times during the course of this inaugural year. Two students and a young staff member from the Village performed at the UK Yom Ha’atzmaut Concert in May 2015.”

JNF UK: “What are Bikurim’s plans for the future?

JDC: “In conjunction with our long-term growth programme, we are currently recruiting the next class of 9th and 10th graders with extraordinary potential from underserved communities throughout southern Israel. These candidates, if accepted, will commence their studies at Bikurim at the start of the next school year, starting in September 2015. The candidates for next year reflect a similar cross-section of backgrounds compared to our first twenty students.”

“In addition, we’re in the final development stages with our partners in the Nofei Habesor High School – where all of our students are enrolled – for the launch of our next artistic area of concentration – the visual arts – in September. This will be a state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary programme through which the students will study art history, painting, sculpture, illustration, design, video art, basic carpentry, basic metalwork, and other skills with highly-trained teachers and professional practitioners. In parallel, and with the generous assistance of our partners at JNF UK, we are renovating the next residential dormitory building on our campus and constructing the attached bomb shelters. If all goes as planned, these efforts will result in a total of 45-50 students in the Village in the 2015-2016 school year, with an additional 30 students enrolling every year until we reach a total capacity of 150 students from the 9th to the 12th grades. Furthermore, during the coming three to four years, we will expand to also include theatre and dance.”

JNF UK: Thanks for your time Jonathan.